Biofuels may harm environment: Experts

December 7th, 2008 - 5:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Panama City, Dec 7 (IANS) Extensive cultivation of biofuel crops, aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas or carbon emissions, have posed the “risk of ultimately harming the environment”, experts have said.Scientists taking part in an ecology conference here said that deforestation and land-use changes for biofuel crops are harming environment as much as fossil fuels like coal and petroleum, EFE reported Sunday.

The forum was organised by the Panama-based Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).

STRI scientist William Laurance said the diversion of farm belts to biofuel crops also is leading to large increases in the prices of corn, soy and palm oil.

“Looking 30 years ahead, creating energy with palm oil will reduce carbon emissions by 30 tons per hectare, but that doesn’t take into account forest loss,” said biologist Renton Righelato of the organization World Land Trust, which protects habitats at risk.

Although the biofuel production process generates less carbon, the long-term effects are more harmful than those associated with fossil fuels, the experts said.

According to Righelato, in the process of forest conversion to produce these fuels, “more carbon would be emitted than what is saved (by avoiding fossil-fuel production).”

Biofuel is often touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels but palm oil or soy plantations can harm the environment when they replace tropical forests, which are efficient carbon-storage tools.

Tropical forests are estimated to store around 46 percent of terrestrial carbon, while 25 percent of total net global carbon emissions may stem from deforestation.

Righelato also cast doubt on the capacity of biofuels to substitute the diesel fuel currently being used.

“To replace 60 percent of the global transport fuel would require planting all the arable land we now have in the world and using it to generate biofuels,” Righelato said.

Philip Fearnside, of Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research, said “deforestation is advancing at an alarming rate” in Brazil because of the government’s policy of encouraging biofuel farming.

“The demand for these fuels also is increasing and the forecasts say that the total of 20 billion liters (5.3 billion gallons) required today will rise to 52 billion in 2017,” he added.

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